Arsenal look east / Leave the Cup alone

Will concentration be an issue after our big night on Wednesday? It has been for me. If I’ve watched van Persie’s and Arshavin’s goals once, I’ve watched them a hundred times. I’ve chewed the game over with anyone who cares to listen (and some who don’t), I’ve digested all the podcasts, I’ve modded my iPhone wallpaper (thanks Gunnerblog) and I’ve changed its ringtone to ‘Goal – van Persie Goal, van Persie Goal’ (thanks Arseblog). I have responded to all those well-wishers who texted, DM’d and rung me to congratulate me. Like I played a part! I merely shouted and jumped up and down and hugged other men and women. I have been on YouTube and the interwebs. Short of building a shrine in my front room, there’s not a lot more I can do. It needs to stop.

Today’s we’re off to Brisbane Road for our fifth round tie and it’s a classic cup match-up. The O’s are doing well and will suspect – justifiably – that some of our better players will be given a breather today. As Arseblogger said yesterday, fighting on four fronts is an almost impossible task, so rotation has to happen. Wenger needs to get the balance right, but I would still expect the likes of Squillaci, Gibbs, Denilson, Bendtner, Chamakh and Rosicky to start today. Will they all start? Quite possibly, with a strong bench to call on should things need to change.

Leave the cup alone

Incidentally, debutant Mike Parry on 606 last night played devil’s advocate – I give him the benefit of the doubt because if he actually believed it, I despair – by claiming the FA Cup needs to be brought from its malaise by seeding. His argument was that by having non-Premier League teams in the final never makes for a good game, so on that basis some kind of seeding needs to occur to prevent it from happening. The public wants to see the FA Cup final between the country’s biggest teams, he said. I couldn’t disagree more vehemently. As if cup finals between the top teams are special? The biggest clubs getting to the final more frequently is what’s making it less interesting, not more interesting. Liverpool v Man Utd in 1996? When was the last classic cup final between the ‘top four’?

And as if seeding as a concept works – look at the Champions League group stages. It’s got to the point where it’s more ‘valuable’ (financially) to stay in the Premier League than have a run in the cup, and it’s more ‘valuable’ (financially) to come fourth to get into the Champions League. Where is the glory of actually winning something?

I don’t pretend to have the answers but for my money it might be improved by the following:

1. Leave the format alone. Scrap replays, weeknight finals, more random TV-driven kick-offs? Just stop it. Ideas like this will kill it. We need to keep replays, because they are the essence of the cup. It gives smaller clubs a potential pay day and it motivates them. Leeds away was one of the most enjoyable games of our season. Leave it alone.
2. Include the FA Cup as part of all clubs’ season tickets. It works at Arsenal. Nobody complains. It might raise crowds elsewhere. And on top of that, if it’s a game the fans have to purchase, managers/chairmen might be forced to take it more seriously.
3. Make it more worthwhile financially. The winner currently gets £1,800,000. It shouldn’t be about the money, but seeing that it is, raise the pot given to those who get to the latter stages – QFs onwards – and it might just readjust some priorities.

Anyway, that’s my tupp’orth. I love the FA Cup, always have, always will. Don’t tinker too much with it, I say.

Come on you rip-roarers.

An inexperience of a lifetime

Anyway, I’m back again. I spent the weekend looking after small children, and as anyone who looks after small children can attest, there’s not a lot of scope for blogging on the side when you’re in charge. Not a lot of scope for anything, in truth.

So I looked on at the Stoke win in semi-detachment, marvelling in the main at the ability of Andrei Arshavin (5ft 7½in) to lead the line.

Remarkably, he’s scored seven goals in fifteen starts this season. This is all the more impressive given the fact he’s not – by his own admission – been firing on all cylinders. Russia being knocked out of the World Cup clearly didn’t help his frame of mind, but even without that, he’s hardly been player-of-the-monthing it. He might not be sizzling hot, but he’s the kind of player who can make something happen nevertheless. I guess that’s what you get when you shop for experience and are prepared to pay £16m.

Heaven only knows what we would do without him at the moment. Our injury concerns have gone beyond worrying about – laughing and inappropriate gags about balsa wood and muscle strains caused by nothing more than the referee blowing his whistle seem to be the order of the day now.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier today (@eastlower), someone should put their technical hat on and create a twitter feed from Arsenal’s Injury News page. I don’t know how to do it but I’d certainly appreciate being kept abreast of the latest knocks and knacks. It’s the most consistent thing about our season at the moment.

Naturally, a win against Stoke was much needed, especially considering the next game is at Anfield. Last year’s game was the astonishing 4-4, and I confess that, while I tend not to go back over old games that much, I have drooled over Arshavin’s four strikes once or twice since then (while conveniently ignoring the four goals that came in the other direction, the last one in particular).

How we could do with a repeat performance from him.

In the meantime of course, we have the dead rubber against Olympiacos in Athens tomorrow night. In fact, it’s not entirely a dead rubber seeing that Olympiacos need a point to guarantee their place in the last 16, but for Arsenal its merits are a) experience for the Ramseys, Eastmonds and Randalls of this world, and b) the rehabilitation of players like Walcott (who might get his customary 13 minutes on the pitch before he succumbs to the next niggle).

Wilshere on loan? I can see the logic in this, even if the timing, given our general medical calamities, feels a bit odd. He’s 17 and has played just five times this season. He needs games.

Right, that’s it for now. Olympiacos should be, if nothing else, interesting. I mean, look at this:

Vela, Walcott, Ramsey, Song, Silvestre, Wilshere, Fabianski, Mannone, Merida, Bartley, Coquelin, Cruise, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas, Gilbert, Ayling, Randall, Sunu.

10 British players there – another nail in the coffin of those who claim home-grown talent gets overlooked.

But can they realistically come away with something?

One last thing

I promised to pass on some info from the gents over at The Gooner Review. They’ve got limited edition Christmas bundles, such as signed Bob Wilson caps, signed Peter Marinello books and ‘The Gooner Review 08-09’ DVDs, so for those looking to tuck into some Christmas present purchasing, you can find out more by going to their website.